Outstanding price and performance but outdated

A Review On: Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB Audio System with THX SB1240

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD USB Audio System with THX SB1240

Rated # 11 in Sound Cards
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Price paid: $99.00
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Pros: Good specs, clean sounding throughout, connectivity

Cons: poorly done headphone out, Creative Bloatware, requires drivers to run, sampling issues

Decided to write this review to hopefully answer any queries anyone may have. 

 

The creative X-fi back last year, was one of the best DACs out there with very good value for its performance, conducting some tests with RMAA, I found that it has good 18 bit performance and true 16 bit performance that was pretty much unmatched by any DACs at that price back then (there is now the ODAC). Still, its a pretty clean sounding dac, and less grainy than both the E7 and E10(I borrowed them). Overall it is a pretty good dac that has good technical performance as expected of a DAC designed with proper tools. 

 

However, with headphones, it does a terrible job, I think it is a problem with output impedance like many before me has mentioned. Despite using a JRC4556, it fails with balanced armatures but fairs fairly well with regular headphones but is less capable than a E7 that I tried once. With my TF10, the X-fi HD is muddy yet harsh at the same time.  The headphone output clips when using Isone with my previous ATH-M50s, indicating that even 32ohm dynamic driver headphones bring it uncomfortably close to clipping.

 

Another issue that users experienced is the lack of 44.1khz input which is utterly ridiculous and a huge disadvantage compared to the competition. I myself resample all my sources to 24/96 so it isn't too bad. Not resampling increases distortion quite a lot. But for videos, I find that it is of little issue as audio in videos I watch is typically 48khz which is within the sweet spot for the X-fi HD

 

Now on to its drivers, Creative does have its bloatware but has so far caused no particular issues with playback for me, I'm using Jriver Media Center's Wasapi Event style for all my music playback. Its optical inputs and outputs require external drivers which is a big minus when I want to use this with my cd player for instance, I will need to have a computer running to accept optical in. 

 

Overall, I find that despite the release of new DACs like the E10, I find the X-fi HD quite competitive for the price as a DAC only device, since the E10 only barely makes it pass CD quality in 24 bit mode whereas the X-fi HD is fully 16 bit capable(-94db) and is capable of 18bit operation which is a lot of headroom for adding DSPs. Now with the ODAC though, it is a pretty outdated component and I can't really recommend it to anyone for playback only. The good thing is that the analog inputs is decent(not extremely fantastic) so those hoping for a cheap way of converting their vinyls to digital copies have a solution there.

 

Those seeking a DAC and headamp combo should consider the E17, E10 or E7 which are better than the X-fi HD for what they do with headphones. 

 

Equipment used for review: in my signature

Player: Jriver Media Center WASAPI Event Style

2 Comments:

It's hard to follow what's supposed to make the E10 such a better DAC and headphone amp. I think it sounds different, and better in some of the midranges, but the Creative is still going strong and clearly preferable in some aspects (detail, warmth, bass...)
I just wanted to clarify that the X-Fi HD does allow 44.1khz sample rates in SPDIF Output.